A Star-Maker Is Born

Bob Rice refers to his band, Backyard Galaxy, as “one of the most popular Catholic bands.”

But, he adds with a note of irony, that might be because the field is not exactly overcrowded.

“As an artist, unfortunately when you say ‘Catholic' or even ‘Christian’ art, in the minds of people it almost downgrades what you do,” Rice says. “It's like, ‘Oh, you don't do real music, you do Christian music.’”

There are plenty of artists who happen to be Catholic, but too few create art with the intent of glorifying God.

That's one reason Rice joined the Society of Catholic Artists, an organization that falls under the newly formed umbrella group Book-end Productions. The mission of the artistic enterprise is to “move mountains in the hearts of Catholics through works of art that illuminate the beauty that saves the world.”

Life-Changing Art

Bookend Productions was born out of hope and love, said co-founder Gina Giambrone. She met fellow co-founder Daniel diSilva at a conference earlier this year and discovered a mutual desire to support fellow artists while building up the Church in the wake of what they call the “un-priestly” scandals.

Giambrone's background is in theater; her role now is executive director of Bookend Productions. DiSilva, a member of Crispin, which he describes as a “Catholic funk band,” leads the creative side.

Drawing from Pope John Paul II's 1999 letter to artists, the two say they want to encourage and create artistic endeavors that inspire, edify and motivate the Catholic faithful.

“The Catholic Church is full of artists,” says diSilva, whose experience in the secular music industry showed him there are many Catholics on stage who leave their faith outside the recording studio. “Book-ends is about taking all that stuff back and having them make a commitment to creating art that's going to glorify what's true.”

That's exactly the kind of people they want to target, both as members of the Society of Catholic Artists and with Bookend Productions, Giambrone says.

“We want very much the people who are Catholic and artists but haven't found for themselves the way in which these two are unified,” she says.

“We want to tell them, ‘Look, you can make art that changes the world for the good,’” diSilva adds.

They have outlined five current projects, each serving a specific need in the Church: The Society of Catholic Artists, a magazine, a letter-writing campaign to honor priests that will evolve into a coffee-table book, a video documentary on the priesthood, and Crispin, now under Bookend Productions' management. Plays and musicals are also possibilities.

DiSilva's work with Crispin is what Giambrone calls “a great example of what we hope artists will do.”

With five CDs in circulation and a sixth in production, Crispin teamed with Bookend Productions to continue preaching the Gospel. It is composing the organization's theme song and scheduling concert tours that will help spread the word about Bookend.

Fifty artists — dancers, painters, musicians, actors and writers — have joined the Society of Catholic Artists. A gathering that coincides with the 2005 World Youth Day in Germany will provide the first large-scale forum for members.

The goal of the Society of Catholic Artists, diSilva cautions, is not to act as the “art police” but rather to encourage artists to use their talents in positive ways. However, this doesn't mean members must only create specifically religious art. There are other ways to glorify God and express fundamental truths, Giambrone says.

The magazine will be one such vehicle. Slated for debut in spring 2005, Seven is named for the traditionally symbolic number that stands for heaven, eternity and the number of sacraments, among other things. It will be bold, cutting edge, completely orthodox and competitive with other popular magazines, Giambrone says. As possible subjects, she lists reviews of art, books and music from a Catholic perspective; columns on apologetics, science and religion; articles about individuals' experiences in the Church; and responses to current media topics.

“It's not worth doing if it's not worth doing excellent,” Giambrone adds. “We will not settle for something mediocre.”

Enthused Episcopacy

Both diSilva and Giambrone are very aware of the financial need these projects will create. One of their first steps has been to visit bishops and ask for their blessings, if not monetary support. Their first visit, with Diocese of Covington, Ky., Bishop Roger Foys, resulted in a blessing and an offer of office space at the chancery in Kentucky.

“The bishop was very impressed with them,” says Father Michael Due, one of the vicars general of the diocese. “They are two young people really enthused about the Church and trying to make a difference.”

Also on the agenda are two projects specifically designed to support and recognize priests. For several months Bookend Productions has conducted a grass-roots letter-writing campaign soliciting stories about priests that will be incorporated into a coffee-table book by summer 2005.

A video documentary will profile men in the priesthood and seminary, interspersed with commentary and information about the positive aspects of the priesthood.

While the scandals fueled this drive to support priests, Bookend Productions was created out of a need to support artists and glorify God, not simply to counteract negative publicity about the Church, diSilva explains.

“The scandals will come and go,” he says. “When that's done, when that smoke has been smothered, there's a lot more we'll have to do.”

Dana Lorelle writes from Raleigh, North Carolina.

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